Early summer hatchings

Time passes. Before one can realize that summer has started it is usually already over. Late spring and early summer was particularly busy this year since we had to arrange our move to our new home. At the same time also most of the chrysalises that overwintered, either in our fridge or on the balcony, hatched.

I rarely managed to keep the camera close by, most commonly I only saw some butterfly that hatched before taking off. However, I did get a couple shots from some of the species. It was nice to see that the Lime Hawk-moth (Mimas tiliae), which our daughter found as slightly injured caterpillar, managed to complete the metamorphosis.

Like the year before, I also had a couple Poplar Hawk-moths (Laothoe populi) overwintering. It was great seeing the difference in both sizes and coloring across individuals. The Small Emperor Moths (Saturnia pavonia), which I received as eggs from a friend, were true beauties. I remember one afternoon when I returned from work, there was quite some buzzing on the balcony. Due to a couple females that hatched the same time they managed to attract multiple males that were flying around. I’ll get back with some more photos from this species later on.

Migrant mastering winter

People say the Large white (Pieris brassicae) can’t normally survive the cold winters in Finland. Commonly, the butterflies migrate north in late summer and potentially breed after arrival. Nevertheless, in late 2015 I managed to find masses of caterpillars and took exactly 27 of them home for raising. In late spring 2016, every single one hatched.

I kept about half of the overwintering chrysalises in the fridge. The rest spent the entire winter on a balcony in the shadow, exposed to temperatures as cold as -25 degrees Celsius. The chrysalises from the fridge were also placed on the balcony in spring to get them hatch at the same time when the conditions are right.

My first surprise was that the caterpillars did not have parasites at all. The second surprise, of course, was to see the adult butterflies hatching. This are great results, proving the species can handle the conditions in the North and is able to overwinter locally.

Caterpillar of the Purple Emperor

The two caterpillars of the Purple Emperor (Apatura iris) that are currently feeding on potted willow on our balcony develop nicely. On the coming weekend it’ll be time for another attempt to find caterpillars of the Purple Emperor or, even better, the Lesser Purple Emperor (Apatura ilia).

Early hatcher

I’ve kept a part of the overwintering chrysalises in the fridge this year. The other part spent winter in the shadow on our balcony. Unfortunately, today I had to realize that some of the butterflies developed too fast in the fridge. Despite of the stable temperature around 5-7 °C the one and only Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi) I had hatched. Way too early. The current outside temperature is around the freezing point, and the forecast does not show any spring weather yet. Also the Orange Tips (Anthocharis cardamines) look like they’re about to hatch.

I’ll move the box with butterfly pupae to the balcony, hoping the butterflies will make it through the coming cold weeks. It’s the only chance. If they hatch too early there won’t be company by other specimen in the wild.

Conclusion: Looks like mainly chrysalises of moths that do well overwintering in the fridge. For eggs of hairstreaks or butterfly chrysalises the risk is high that they will develop too early. Note that the winter in Finland lasts much longer than in other regions.

Disguised on a flower bud

Exactly one week ago the first two caterpillars of the White-letter hairstreak hatched. Right after hatching, the tiny, black larvae had one mission: to find a flower bud on the elm twig and dig in.

It took about 4-5 days for them to appear again. From now on, it appears they don’t hide anymore inside of the flower bud but feed from outside. Nevertheless, due to their excellent disguise it doesn’t matter where or how they feed. They won’t be spotted that easily. Having them on the buds makes it much more fun to be able to search and also sight them.

Looking forward to seeing the caterpillars grow and reach more size. Raising hairstreaks, note this is my first time and species, differs quite a lot from raising other species.

Hatching Hairstreak

Last Friday night I was able to observe a step in the butterfly metamorphosis that I haven’t witnessed before: A caterpillar hatching.

During the afternoon I saw that some of the eggs in the raising box started to show tiny holes. They appeared smaller than those of empty egg shells which I sighted quite commonly while searching for eggs last autumn. In the evening I took a closer look with a magnifying glass. I saw something shiny inside the egg, and it was moving. I quickly realized it was the black head of the tiny caterpillar. Only moments later the caterpillar started to leave the egg. Just enough time to get the camera.

Due to poor light conditions and my camera equipment shooting close-ups it always a challenge. Nevertheless, here’s some photos of the first moments of a young caterpillar. Minutes after hatching, the tiny larva disappeared in a close-by leaf bud. This is where it will spend a couple days.

The Hairstreak Mission

One of my project for this butterfly season is raising the four Hairstreak species that overwinter as egg: the White-letter Hairstreak (Satyrium w-album), the Black Hairstreak (Satyrium pruni), the Brown Hairstreak (Thecla betulae) and the Purple Hairstreak (Neozephyrus quercus).

During the Easter weekend, when I returned from searching eggs of the Black Hairstreak I spotted a surprise. As I opened the “egg box” in our fridge’s vegetable compartment to put some fresh pruni ova to the collection I couldn’t believe my eyes. Despite of the temperature around only 4.5 degrees Celsius two of my three White-letter Hairstreak eggs hatched. The tiny caterpillars started their journey, a trip to find a flower bud of elm, and dig in. Two conditions saved my day. First, our neighbor has a couple old elm trees in their garden. Some twigs with flower buds hang nicely over the street. Second, spring arrived early this year in Finland. This means, the blossom buds were already slightly open.

I started to assemble a raising setup for the first species, the White-letter Hairstreak. The next day, I decided to also set up the arrangements for the species feeding on Bird Cherrry (Prunus padus). These are the Black and the Brown Hairstreak. Also Bird Cherry has recently started to sprout. Even though these two species have not hatched yet, it shouldn’t take too long for the caterpillars to start searching the closest bud, only to disappear again for a couple days.

Oak is not that far yet. I’ll therefor keep the eggs of the Purple Hairstreak in the cold until the flower buds of Oak start opening in nature. The phase to guide the tiny caterpillars into the buds deserves some attention. A couple photos of the setup can be found below.

The egg count for the Hairstreak mission is following: 3 eggs of the White-letter Hairstreak, 10 eggs of the Brown Hairstreak, 8 eggs of the Black Hairstreak and 16 eggs of the Purple Hairstreak. These eggs have been carefully collected in nature during autumn and winter. I’ll try to keep the natural timing for all species, so the adult butterflies can hatch around the same time as they’d in the wild. They will be released into nature after hatching.

The highlight of raising butterflies

Raising butterflies provides a long lasting entertainment to both adults and kids. However, there is a particular highlight. The moment when a fresh butterfly has hatched, dried its wings and is ready to be released.

Sometimes you have plenty of time to take decent photos of the new adult butterflies. Sometimes, it will just take seconds and the butterfly flatters away. Nevertheless, it’s a rewarding moment. All the care-taking pays back with the feeling of having achieved something.

Here’s some photos of releasing European Peacocks (Inachis io) and Red Admirals (Vanessa atalanta). The European Peacocks came with an additional challenge. They tend to hatch early in the morning (in my case the Red Admirals hatched around noon). With plain shadow in our garden, and a sleepy daughter it was pretty tricky to get some footage.

Confirming the species

I recently wrote a post about guessing the species. It’s not always trivial to get clarification on the species of an individual. Especially in case of young caterpillars there might be only one safe way to determine the species: Grab some individuals in a jar and raise them!

So I did. I went back to the spot where I found a rather large colony of what I believed was caterpillars of the Map (Araschnia levana). Even though I found caterpillars of the Map 2 meters away from the colony they did not 100% look identical. To get peace of mind I placed 5 caterpillars in a box at home, fed them and started to wait.

For the comparison I had the caterpillars of A. levana, which I collected earlier, in a separate box. These were identified by observing the horns on the head of the caterpillars. This unique characteristic leaves no doubt that the individuals are from the Map.

After about 7-10 days the unidentified specimen started to reach a size where details can be easier observed. This also means the species can finally be determined. And my guess was wrong, but my doubt was confirmed. The caterpillars indeed are from the European Peacock (Inachis io), not from the Map.

Bottom line, I must admit this small experiment has been fun. Furthermore, the European Peacock is one of my season targets I wanted to raise this summer. That said, one more target has been nailed rather through coincidence. But I’ll take it.

In the jar – Raising update

The season has proceeded to reach midsummer. Despite of the poor weather this year I’ve been lucky enough to find some caterpillars for raising. Here’s a status update on what’s in currently the jar (breeding cages or terrariums) and how far they are in the metamorphosis.

Common Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni)

A couple days ago the first caterpillar has pupated. I’ve been keeping the caterpillars on the balcony, and due to seriously poor weather (with temperatures as cold as 4 degrees Celsius) have given the caterpillars a hard time. So far two have dropped dead after they had stopped eating.

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

The single caterpillar which I’ve been raising from egg has been doing well. It was feeding inside until I moved it out right before it pupated. The outside temperatures will regulate that the butterfly will hatch at the right time.

Death’s-head Hawkmoth (Acherontia atropos)

I received two mid-sized caterpillars from another breeder some time ago. In the meantime, one has pupated two days ago. The other one, which had been feeding on a potted plant on the balcony, has unfortunately disappeared. My assumption is that it dug itself into the soil of the pot due to the cold weather. I try to be optimistic and hope I’ll see it again on the plant once the weather gets better. It wasn’t accepting cut leafs like the other one and thus had to be kept on a living plant outside.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

I obtained this species by finding eggs on a field nearby. The caterpillars have been feeding well and have also grown, reaching the size of about 1 cm so far.

The Map (Araschnia levana)

The tiny caterpillars which I found a week ago have been feeding well. They’ve gained in size and I’ve been able to get confirmation about the species. At the beginning I was not 100% sure if they really were caterpillars of the Map or if they could be from the European Peacock (Inachis io).

Scarce Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis xanthomelas)

The colony of about two dozen caterpillars has been feeding well. They gain size after they skinned a couple days ago.

Privet Hawk Moth (Sphinx ligustri)

I received three caterpillars of this species in exchange for some of the Scarce Tortoiseshell larva. All three have stopped eating and started to prepare for pupating.

Overwintered species

From the chrysalises I had overwintering there’s still two left: An Old World Swallowtail (Papilio machaon) and a Poplar Hawk-moth (Laothoe populi). I start having my doubt they’re not healthy and no butterfly may hatch. Both feel and look pretty healthy though, and it’s well possible the poor weather conditions can be blamed. Hopefully I’ll see both hatching once it’ll get warmer outside.